Friday, December 5, 2008


I'm not a very good porteño. In fact, I'm a downright disgrace. Any self-respecting Buenos Aires citizen--native or transplanted--has three great loves (hold on, I'll get to them in a second), and in my case, I can take or leave, preferably leave, each one. I don't eat meat. I'm indifferent to wine. And tango leaves me stone cold. But there's hope. My friend Luciano recently told me that one doesn't officially become a porteño until he or she has lived in BA for at least five years. So I have 33 1/2 months left to adapt my both my taste buds and my ear drums.

Wednesday night I took a baby step and attended my first milonga. For those not in the know, a milonga is like a tango disco. Every week a series of revolving parties feature in a designated space, and Wednesdays at La Marshall in the Microcentro is Mano a Mano's gay and lesbian night. I must confess that I didn't make the long trip downtown on my own accord but rather for a story I'm doing for Time Out Buenos Aires. Still, give me credit; the idea for the piece was mine, all mine.

I was surprised because the crowd was younger and better-looking than I expected. There were some tourists but enough locals to give the joint more than a passing whiff of Argentine authenticity. In between those lovely tango ballads that, you know, leave me pretty cold, the DJ slipped in a very welcome surprise: Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" (listen). I almost fell off my chair! Who knew that anyone in Argentina had even heard of old Leonard, and what on earth does he have to do with tango? My friend Gustavo explained that milongas are not typically purist when it comes to the playlist, so if a song has a tango feel, it's fair game. Whatever tango feel "I'm Your Man" possesses remains lost on me, but as a huge fan ("Closing Time" from 1992's The Future--see the video below--is my favorite six minutes of Cohen), I'll take what I can get.

I met Leonard's singer-songwriter son, Adam Cohen, years ago in New York City. It was the Sunday night before a Monday holiday, and I was killing time at the bar of a Chelsea restuarant (the name of which escapes me at the moment) before going out with my friend Elvis, who was a waiter there. I was having a conversation with a girl who looked like a young Julianne Moore about the merits of the new Fiona Apple CD, When The Pawn..., which was an obsession of mine at the time, and Adam chimed in. We spent several hours afterwards discussing music and downing cocktails until the lights went out, and we were forced to leave. Adam called me a few days later and left a message on my answering machine, but I was on my way out of town, and by the time I returned to my home, he'd returned to his in Los Angeles.

This memory didn't come flooding back to me as I listed to Adam's dad crooning at the milonga. I thought about how, for the first time since I moved to BA, porteño taste in music--so often focused squarely on the '80s--was impressing me. Perhaps I won't have to come around to their way of thinking and starting eating meat, guzzling wine and doing the tango. Maybe, just maybe, there's hope that I can bring them around to mine.

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